Five months after the squalid failure of the Third
WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle, and four months after UNCTAD X in
Bangkok which provided lubrication for the squeaks and groans inflicted
on the latter, and given the latest information that Director General of
WTO, Mike Moore has a planned 3-4 year program for Africa - the most
laggard of the continents in the multilateral trading system, I thought
I should make a modest contribution on what is going on in the WTO and
how I perceive the future.
To start with, I wish to correct the impression that
may exist among some Africans that that the lopsidedness of the Uruguay
Round Agreement and the non-transparency manner in which the WTO handles
its major events such as the Ministerial Meetings are a product of the
WTO secretariat and its Director General (DG) in this case Mike Moore. I
wish to state that it is very easy to confuse the WTO secretariat with
developed countries. To an ordinary person in the street, perhaps the
secretariat is synonymous with rich countries. But, who, in fact is the
WTO? In developed countries, when we hear of protests against the WTO,
maybe protestors and ordinary citizens understand exactly what
constitutes the WTO. In Africa, not many people may know. The WTO is
Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, North America, and other
continents. It comprises both rich and poor countries. It is our own
baby. The secretariat and its DG are not the WTO.
Africas central problems in the WTO revolve around
the imbalances and biases created by rich countries in the Uruguay Round
Agreement (URA). Africas problem lies in the inability of rich
countries to genuinely make it an equal participant. The Agreement was
deliberately made unfair in many ways. For instance, it failed to
recognise the need to create conditions for its implementation. The
Agreement should have come after necessary conditions for implementation
such as adequate technical assistance, and improved environment were put
in place. WTO should have drawn lessons from industry (its reason
detre) that identification of customer needs and developing a
product that satisfies those needs is at the heart of business.
Companies that started with products first then, selling them have often
met with difficulties. It is like Africas stock markets whose
creation was legal-driven instead of demand-driven.
The WTO discriminates against poor members. This is
the core problem. Says former DG, Renato Ruggiero, Industrialised
countries have not lived up to the spirit of liberalisation (such as
textiles), made excessive use of anti-dumping measures, or failed to
respect the principle of special and differential treatment (S&D).
In short, these countries see an imbalance in the way existing
agreements affect them, and they see this as a problem which needs a
political solution, not just more technical assistance.
Before Seattle, it will be recalled that Moores
first task as DG was to sound his wish for rich country members of the
WTO to give not only free but bound market access for all products from
Least Developed Countries (LDCs), most of whom are in Africa. Since
then, he has bravely continued to urge these countries to make this
donation, which he says would not cost them much. Soon after Seattle, he
embarked on a confidence-building initiative in the WTO on the basis of
making improvements on four elements of the organisations work:
market access for LDCs; implementation issues for developing countries;
technical assistance; and internal transparency of the WTO. In all these
elements, the idea was to improve the participation of developing
countries especially LDCs in the WTO and lay a positive foundation for
the forthcoming negotiations on Agriculture and services this year as
well as the next round.
At the General Council Meeting of 3 May 2000, Moore
reported on the outcome of the initiative. Although his report was full
of optimism, the reality on the ground is that many Africans were
unhappy with the outcome of the initiative. Again, this wasnt
Moores fault. In fact, he too was disappointed.
LDCs, Moores central target for rich countries
help in the WTO did not get bound duty free and quota-free market
access. Instead, rich countries hid their shame in the language that
theyd provide " market access by according and implementing
tariff-free and quota-free treatment consistent with domestic
requirements and international Agreement, under their respective
preferential schemes for essentially all products originating in least
developed countries." The gist of this is that domestic measures
predominate again over multilateral measures. It also means absence of
security for market access. "Originating" also has rules of
origin implications. In short, LDCs remain where they were before
Seattle over this matter.
Some critical questions regarding the market access
offer by rich countries arise: What is the meaning of "essentially
all" and the intention behind this wording? If they wish to exclude some
products from duty/quota free treatment, what would be these products?
Would they be confined to those covered by special provisions within the
WTO Agreements, e.g. Transitional safeguard on textiles, special
treatment on agriculture, or would there be individual lists of
exceptions? Would they adopt one common formula for the duty free
treatment, or would there be individual lists? Would there be a common
set of rules of origin? Would these be designed to take account of the
special weaknesses of LDCs in processing? Would cumulating among LDCs be
permitted? Why is binding avoided? Would it be possible to present
various options of achieving security for the duty/quota free treatment?
As WTO is about rights, what rights does the proposal give to LDCs and
what recourse would be available for LDCs if such treatment were removed
Clearly, LDCs need something new, something
long-term, and something with binding rules. They need something like a
protocol, acceptable by all.
On implementation, major lacuna exists in the rich
countries proposal. The proposals on Trade Related Investment
Measures (TRIMS) and Customs Valuation focus on transitional
periods on a case-by case basis and on the basis of a calendar.
Such requests are not likely to be entertained and if they were,
theyd be subjected to a strict timetable for their elimination. Why
shouldnt the transitional periods be extended for all LDCs without
any pre-conditions of case by case? Why not on the basis of their
development, financial and trade needs? Whatd be the adequate period
of extension for LDCs? Should this be linked to the availability of
sufficient resources to LDCs to effectively implement these agreements?
What about the exemption of LDCs from the application of local content
requirements to support industrial development?
On Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS), the package
focuses also on extension of transitional period by 3 years. What
effective measures would be taken to implement Articles 9 and 10 on
technical assistance and special and differential treatment (S&D) to
build up capacity of LDCs in respect of transfer of processing of
technology as provided in Article 9 of the SPS Agreement? Rich countries
made this commitment and therefore it should be implemented in a
fundamental way. Otherwise, today Africa maybe given bound market access
but without adequate standards, rich countries will still bar these
products on the basis of unilateral measures.
The controversial TRIPS Agreement is not included in
the rich countries proposal. Article 66.2 of this Agreement provides
for rich countries to provide incentives to their enterprises and
institutions for transfer of technology to LDCs for them to improve
their technological base.
Africa should be focusing on making rich countries
operationalise developmental-oriented Agreements such as the TRIPS
Agreement. Rich countries implemented TRIPS ignoring this provision.
Further, in spite of their lacklustre to do so, they are enthusiastic to
see that developing countries implement completely TRIPS within this
year for non-LDCs and by year 2006 for LDCs. When challenged, they have
argued that they have been implementing the provision through bilateral
initiatives. But, this is untrue and deceptive.
Technical assistance is skewed toward serving rich
countries interests in the URA. It does not impact negotiation skills
on poor countries. Neither does it on understanding critical issues of a
developmental benefit in the URA. Instead, it concentrates on
understanding the multilateral trading system such as implementing
TRIPS. As one study observes, It is not clear what has motivated the
refusal of the member countries in recent years to provide even minimal
adequate levels of technical co-operation funding through the regular
budget. Money cannot be the real issue, since the amount involved is so
trivial. So, if it is not the money, what is it that explains the
state of the WTOs technical co-operation budget? It is hard not be
suspicious that at least one factor is a desire by many WTO members to
avoid increasing the capacity of the Sub-Sahara Countries to play an
active and effective role in the WTO.
In terms of the proposal, it calls for another study
of existing technical co-operation. Technical assistance needs of LDCs
have been identified and quantified and the delivery of technical
assistance programmes by WTO as well as with UNCTAD since 1995. What
resources can be committed to LDCs? Is it Swiss Francs 10 million for
the regular budget as suggested during preparations for Seattle Meeting?
And which portion would be devoted to LDCs? When would these be made
available and through which forum WTO, UNCTAD, LDC directly, etc?
Shouldnt the rich countries begin implementation of the Integrated
Framework in some selected LDCs?
To recapitulate the earlier point: these imbalances
and many more are not a product of Moore, the Director General of WTO or
his secretariat. Just like the exclusive greenrooms or lack of
transparency in decision-making in the WTO is not.
Africa would do better to target these issues at the
rich countries. They must set objectives in terms of priorities; create
a strategy to achieve them and make a case and presentation to their
rich trading partners. This could be done even before the mandated
issues and definitely the next round take place. Yes, multilateral
negotiations take place in the WTO in Geneva. But, dialogue can be done
in capitals of rich countries.
Moore can effectively act as a broker. He intends to
visit many African countries. Indeed, he must be given all the necessary
support. Africa should allow him to talk to all relevant people from
heads of states to ordinary businessmen and women who wish to benefit
from WTO rules. It is necessary for him to sensitise heads of states to
issues of WTO. We all know that most African leaders have put these
issues at the back seat. By talking to heads of states, it might help to
put multilateral rules on the political agenda in Africa. It might help
to mainstream trade policy into the overall national strategies, which
is lacking at the moment. It is up to Africans themselves to be smart
and get out of Moore something valuable. Africa needs Moore as much as
Moore needs it.
Moore could be thanked for his efforts on market
access and capacity building through technical assistance for LDCs. But,
he could also be assisted to understand that these efforts need to be
harmonised with technology-focused efforts as highlighted in some of the
WTO Agreements. Africas problem is the lack of supply capacity to
produce products and services that can sell abroad. Market access and
technical assistance without actions on productive capacity are not
enough. As Moore might have learnt when he was in Africa: in Africa, a
meal is only complete if it has relish and ugari, fufu, or
Africa, made it clear in its proposals to the third
WTO Ministerial Meeting that rich countries should opperationalise
Agreements such as those cited above. And they should hammer this point
again to Moore. They should help Moore to help them identify Agreements
in the WTO that will improve their supply base. That is what basically
all these Agreements talk about but are not translated into action.
Clearly, there must be a honest way of honouring obligations in an
integrated and co-ordinated manner by rich countries that can help
Africa get back on the road again. But, this does not preclude WTO from
starting to improve Africas situation through its core business such
as market access, implementation and compliance. Africa must make the
point that beyond the usual implementation in the jargon of the WTO,
there is another dimension. That is supply-focused.
I have strong reasons to place my hopes in Moore.
Moore has with him a team of competent and experienced people. In his
Personal Assistant, Mr. Patrick Low, a Kenyan-born British, with a long
experience in the WTO at Director level, Moore can enjoy a sense of
brilliant advice on technical issues of WTO. Low is a frank and open
person who often talks to African diplomats in Geneva candidly. For the
first time in the history of the WTO and its predecessor (GATTS), Moore
has appointed an African as one of his four Deputy Director Generals.
This is a record for Africa. Mr. Ouedraogo Ablasse is former Minister of
Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, an LDC without a presence in Geneva. In
addition, he comes with a record of experience of the United Nations.
Having worked at the UNDP, he knows how technical assistance programs
should be delivered to benefit Africa. Africa will expect him to leave a
print of good work in the WTO. Africa looks forward to working with him.
Moore becomes the first DG of the WTO and its
predecessor - the GATTS to go to Africa to be specific he went
to the country and city in which this article is being published -
headquarters of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) where he met
African Ambassadors, the Secretary General of the OAU and many other
Africans. He must be given similar chance to meet African heads of
states. This may sound trivial. But, for him as a person, this is how
far he can go. Addressing the real issues remains the chief
responsibility of Africans themselves and their rich trading partners
with Moore as a broker. Again, he needs help to push Africa up-front.
Africa must proactively involve Moore in their affairs at the WTO. They
must present proposals that he can market to members particularly
the "inner circle" as someone calls the rich countries that
control the WTO. He may fail on securing multilateral market access but
he might succeed on others. Id be the first to condemn him if out of
ten concrete, reasonable and different proposals given to him he came
back and told Africa that he failed all. But, the man must be given
Transmitted 13 June 2000